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We must link arms to solve substance abuse crisis

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The nation’s opioid epidemic, stemming from the early 90s, has had several evolutions — from prescription pills to heroin to fentanyl and other synthetic opioid analogues — and continues to claim almost 200 people a day across the United States. Now on its third wave of devastation, local government must depend on the creative and cost-effective collaborations and strategic community partnerships to create sustainable pathways that allow our neighbors to enter voluntary or involuntary treatment while offering easy navigation through disease management, recovery and reentry services through an integrated system of care.

Part of the solution lies in addressing both the supply and demand of such substances and the other part of the equation has to do with the system itself. By increasing access points, coupling individuals and families with system navigators via specialized case management and institutionalizing community collaborations through private and public partnerships, resources can be maximized to create processes that are fluid and allow for easy in-take and remittance without bogging down the system with organizational bureaucracy.

According to Interact for Health’s 2018 Kentucky Health Issues Poll, 50 percent of folks that entered treatment in 2018 did so when a friend or family member intervened. Therefore, a multi-generational, interdisciplinary approach to heal communities and assist the navigators at each intercept point is needed to help shoulder the burden on our criminal justice, public health, foster care, education and emergency medical systems that are feeling under-staffed and over-extended.  If we create an environment where we can link arms with our community partners, we can design a better system built around shared data, common goals and better outcomes. 

As public servants, we must respond with investments and commit to the long-term, sustainable strategies that chip away at the root causes of addiction, remove barriers to treatment and provide opportunities where folks in recovery can reclaim their lives with dignity and participate in asset, coping and skill-building opportunities. And if we can offer quality accessible mental health resources to include evidence-based and individualized care plans that account for a variety of paths to remission and self-sufficiency, it will be robust for any substance and any stage of substance use.

The Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, has reminded us time and time again that “healthy communities are prosperous communities,” and we can no longer have a singular conversation around opioids and instead must focus on all substance use and increasing the health outcomes for all our community members. Let us not underestimate what good government can do to set the policy agenda to increase the impact of public health and public safety. We must lead, link arms and move forward together as a community. We cannot do it alone.

Amanda J. Peters, director, Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Policy, contributed to this article.

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